Saturday 23 November 2019

Joe Duffy and the tragic children of the Rising

Poor children of Dublin collect firewood from the rubble of buildings destroyed during the Rising
Poor children of Dublin collect firewood from the rubble of buildings destroyed during the Rising

Joe Duffy

A TWO-year-old baby girl shot in her mother's arms; a 15-year-old boy buried in an egg crate because there was no money for a coffin; a 13-year-old girl in a green jumper mistaken for a rebel as she peered out the window through a pair of binoculars.

The list could easily be the latest toll of child deaths in Syria, barely registering amid a daily cascade of relentless carnage - but this was Dublin of 99 years ago, as the 1916 Rising rocked the capital.

In all, 40 innocent young lives were swept away amid the terror and uncertainty of a rapidly-shifting political and social landscape.

The parents of those children who lost their lives amid the literal 'shower of bullets' that engulfed the city over the course of Easter week suffered the added devastation of not being able to attend their funerals to grieve together.

Martial law was declared on Tuesday, the day after the Rising first broke out, and with large gatherings of people outlawed, only one person per family was allowed to attend a burial.

Caught up in the cross-fire of Easter week, the loss of these children remained a tragedy frozen in time, all but forgotten until now.

It was, aptly enough, an Easter egg that prompted the explorations of renowned broadcaster Joe Duffy to lift the lid on the proverbial dusty boxes of baby shoes of these children, who were not so much written out of the history books - but never included in the first place.

Duffy's own small tie with the Rising lies in the memory of his grandmother, who had lived on Church Street.

The weather had been beautiful that Easter and forever after, she would always describe a fine day as "rebellion weather," recalled Duffy.

His interest in the children was piqued after he was asked to take part in Jack and Jill's Big Egg Hunt campaign in 2013, with artists and celebrities asked to paint 100 giant pieces of Egg Art.

Asking a historian if anything was known about the children who had died in the Rising, as he wanted to paint their names on the egg, the query drew a blank.

But then the father of triplets discovered some clues in a book dating from 1917.

An egg in the likeness of Bono grabbed the headlines in the Big Egg Hunt campaign that year.

But behind the scenes, Duffy had become quietly hooked.

Three years of exhaustive, non-stop research followed - with Duffy still on the hunt for the living relatives of Eugene Lynch (12) from Vincent Street, Inchicore and Mary Kelly (12) from Lombard Street.

"My family call it an obsession at this stage," he half-joked.

Working with historians, he trawled through the census returns from 1911, birth, death and marriage certificates.

The newspaper archives at Pearse Street Library yielded more, as he sought out death notices after Easter Week and In Memoriam notices a year later.

Even distant relatives turned up with information, explained Duffy.

"They know more than they think," he said.

"When they start telling me more, the titbits come out - it's a jigsaw."

The children who died were from all economic backgrounds and from all across the city - from Rialto to East Wall, Haddington Road to the Quays.

There was John Healy (14) from Phibsborough Road, who wanted to sign up as a volunteer but was immediately sent home by Thomas McDonough for being too young.

On the way home, he was hit in the head by a ricochet.

Little Christina Caffrey (2), the daughter of a charwoman from Corporations Buildings died after being shot in her mother's arms.

Madge Veale (13) from Haddington Road, the daughter of a commercial clerk, was killed because she used binoculars to look out the window of her house.

In her green jumper, she was mistaken for a rebel by soldiers brewing tea in the lane behind her house, and sprayed with bullets.

"All of the children's deaths affected me," said Joe Duffy, adding: "You'd want to have a heart of stone for it not to upset you."

His book Children of the Rising will be published in November 2015.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News